This evening’s pre-Christmas Carol Service at Meadgate Church, Great Baddow featured brilliant imaginative re-tellings of Bible stories, starting with Genesis 1 and continuing through the traditional Christmas passages to the end of Revelation.
One small feature of the first reading caught my attention. The fifth day of creation was illustrated by a vivid description of the sounds made by birds created then. But “gobbling”, presumably intended to be the sound of newly created turkeys, was among the sounds heard on the sixth day.
So on which day of creation did God create turkeys, and other flightless birds? Was it on the fifth day, along with “every winged bird” (Genesis 1:21), or on the sixth day, along with “the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals” (1:24, NIV)?
Well, turkeys have wings, so it sounds as if they should be included in day 5. But God’s purpose on that day was to “let birds fly above the earth” (1:20), which turkeys don’t do, and on day 6 it was to fill the earth with land creatures (1:24), which include turkeys.
No doubt evolutionary biologists will say that flightless turkeys are descended from birds which could fly, and so should be classified among the day 5 creations – although of course those biologists could accept the six days of creation only as symbolic. But the ancient Hebrews who wrote Genesis did not use modern biological classifications.
The issue becomes even more complicated with geese. Our modern western domesticated geese cannot fly, but they have been bred by humans, over perhaps the past 4000 years, from wild greylag geese which can fly. So I suppose they were created on the fifth day.
Perhaps the real point here is that the we should not press the distinctions which the biblical authors made, or to take them as literal chronology. The authors probably weren’t interested so much in telling exactly where turkeys fitted into their time line as in telling a beautiful poetic story. This evening’s imaginative re-telling may have come close to that original purpose – and by questioning its details, as I am in this post, I am, I suppose, guilty of ruining poetry.
But for turkeys, and geese, perhaps the more pressing issue just at the moment is not the day of their beginning but whether their end will come on the fifth or sixth day of this coming week.